Five go pad­dling down the Severn

The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - - Front Page -

The River Severn is the long­est river in Bri­tain, 220 miles from its source, in the Cam­brian Moun­tains, to the point it pours into the Bris­tol Chan­nel. It gets wider and more in­dus­trial as it heads south, but the stretch be­tween Bridg­north in Shrop­shire and Bewd­ley in Worces­ter­shire is quiet, ru­ral and the per­fect place for a leisurely ca­noe ad­ven­ture in the au­tumn sun­shine.

We meet Richard, from Ca­noe UK, at the river­side in Bridg­north. The company of­fers guided and DIY trips along the Severn in Cana­dian-style ca­noes, where pad­dlers sit or kneel in an open boat around 10ft long and use a sin­gle-bladed pad­dle. The ca­noes are sta­ble, roomy and dry, and can com­fort­ably carry three adults. The river is novice-friendly, and Richard re­as­sures us that it’s dif­fi­cult to cap­size th­ese boats, even if you’re play­ing pi­rates and try­ing to sink your friends.

“If you cap­size, don’t panic. The first thing you must do…” we lean in, ea­ger for the life-sav­ing knowl­edge, “… is try and stand up. The river’s pretty shal­low – chances are you’ll be up to your knees and can walk to the bank.” The whole group bursts out laugh­ing – this is go­ing to be a fun day.

We’re kit­ted up with buoy­ancy aids as Richard talks us through the ba­sic strokes to ma­noeu­vre the ca­noe and which sides of the bridges we should aim for, then we’re launched on to the wa­ter. He’ll meet us at the lunch stop, a river­side pub six miles down­stream. The wa­ter gleams, the arches of Bridg­north’s pic­turesque bridge slip above us, and we’re off.

A few low-hang­ing trees, lon­grod­ded but friendly fish­er­men and the odd kamikaze duck are the only ob­sta­cles. This is Archers coun­try, all lush fields, ma­ture wood­land and nes­tled vil­lages with pretty churches, and four miles an hour is the ideal pace to en­joy it at.

In our boat, I’m pad­dling at the front, my hus­band, Joe, is in the back, and Harpo, our dog, is in the mid­dle. In the other ca­noe are our friends Katy and Anna.

We’ve taken Harpo ca­noe­ing a num­ber of times be­fore, and although he’s ex­pressed a few mis­giv­ings in the first five min­utes, his­tor­i­cally he’s quickly set­tled down and en­joyed the rest of the trip, watch­ing the world float by. To­day, un­for­tu­nately, he’s pos­sessed by the urge to keep the gang to­gether. He clearly con­sid­ers the slow, steady wa­ters of the Severn to be a foul tor­ment that keeps pulling Katy and Anna out of his reach.

What starts off as a plain­tive whim­per crescen­dos to a full-on yowl as they pad­dle past. Joe man­fully stops Harpo from throw­ing him­self out of our boat to­wards them, for the first five times at least. But even­tu­ally, and in­evitably, Harpo makes a dash for it, gets three paws out­side the boat and lets his furry brown bulk do the rest. The ca­noe rocks wildly and sta­bilises, and we all pause to watch Harpo cut­ting through the wa­ter at a rate of knots. Thank­fully he’s wear­ing a dog life jacket, so he’s a highly vis­i­ble vivid yel­low and re­mains safely buoy­ant. He noses to­wards the girls’ boat and then dog­gy­pad­dles cir­cles be­tween the two ca­noes as we all drift down­river. Once he’s man­han­dled back into the ca­noe, we de­cide to main­tain a dog-safe dis­tance be­tween the boats. It rather re­duces the ban­ter, but does re­store a de­gree of tran­quil­lity to the river.

The first un­ex­pected de­light of the day is lunch. You can ei­ther bring your own pic­nic or opt for The River & Rail pub at Hamp­ton Loade. Re­cently re­opened, the pub’s ca­noeist menu of­fers quick, tasty dishes cooked to per­fec­tion. We are ex­pect­ing food that will fill the hole and gear us up for the af­ter­noon’s pad­dling. After steak, bone mar­row and fried onion sand­wiches, and truffly mush­room soup with porcin­istuffed bread rolls, we’re more in­clined to loll in the sun­shine than set to with our pad­dles.

The ca­noe­ing is all down­stream, though, so we clam­ber back into our trusty ves­sels for the fi­nal five miles and let the cur­rent help us along. Just be­fore we reach Ar­ley vil­lage we’re re­warded with the mag­nif­i­cent sap­phire company of a king­fisher, dart­ing from perch to perch ahead of us.

At Ar­ley we’re wel­comed on to dry land by Richard and his le­gion of strong-armed, friendly helpers. We dis­cuss our king­fisher spot­ting, and they tell us about the lo­cal ot­ters.

We swap our pad­dles for bags of dry clothes and Richard points us in the di­rec­tion of the post of­fice, which sells fresh lo­cal ice cream (we rec­om­mend the Worces­ter­shire plum and the mint choc chip), and the vil­lage pub. He then hands over train tick­ets and a timetable, and shows us where the rail­way runs.

And so the next phase of this de­light­ful day be­gins. The rub­bish part about most ca­noe trips is the method re­quired to re­turn to your start point. Of­ten in the back of a damp minibus, you cover what took you a day to pad­dle in 20 min­utes. But not at the Ca­noe UK set-up. Not only do you get more than 10 miles of ver­dant, ru­ral river, you get to go home on a steam train on the award-win­ning Severn Val­ley her­itage rail­way.

The sta­tion at Ar­ley is choco­late­box per­fect; the lo­co­mo­tive driv­ers wear red ker­chiefs and coal-dusted caps, the sta­tion master has a hat, paunch and whis­tle just like the Fat Con­troller and when the train huffs in, ev­ery face on the plat­form is glow­ing with child­ish de­light.

We clam­ber into a Thir­ties car­riage, and snack on Anna’s home-made ap­ple cake and tea. It’s a 40-minute ride back to Bridg­north, through stun­ning coun­try­side, just a lit­tle above river level. The per­fect way to round off a day of river fun.

Never tie a dog inside a boat – if you cap­size, it must be able to get clear and swim to safety.

If you spend time on or around wa­ter, con­sider a dog life jacket – most dogs are com­pe­tent swim­mers but cold, open wa­ter, un­ex­pected im­mer­sion and cur­rents pose as­much risk to dogs as they do to peo­ple. The Ruf­fwear Float Coat is hard-wear­ing and is de­signed to give buoy­ancy with­out hin­der­ing move­ment. mud­dy­paws.co.uk; 08453629663.

Aone-day ca­noe and steam train trip be­tween Bridg­north and Ar­ley costs£32per adult,£18for un­der-18s, and in­cludes equip­ment hire, safety brief­ing and ca­noe­ing tips, as well as the Severn Val­ley steam train fare. Min­i­mu­mage is seven years old, and all par­tic­i­pants must be able to swim 50m. Trips run un­til the end of Oc­to­ber. Con­tact Gareth at Ca­noe UK; ca­noeuk. com; 07774907326.

The Severn Val­ley Rail­way steam trains run be­tween Kid­der­min­ster and Bridg­north through­out the year. For timeta­bles and­more in­for­ma­tion, see svr.co.uk.

For­moreof the Tele­graph’s UKbased Ad­ven­tures on your Doorstep se­ries, see tele­graph.co.uk/travel

Mess­ing about in boats: Mary-Ann, Joe and Harpo in their Cana­dian-style ca­noe, left; the Severn Val­ley Rail­way, above, leads back to Bridg­north

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